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Hardly had we sat down, when Blanca began pouring out what had been locked in her soul all week. Nancy, Manuel and Blanca’s oldest daughter, had finally reached her limit with the harsh, hurtful way her father constantly address both her and her younger sisters, and had gone to live with some relatives. With Manuel seated right beside her, she talked about him as if he were not even present, relating to us the condensed version of the rude, damaging way Manuel treated both her and her daughters the previous week.

All the while Manuel twiddled a table knife, and then a pen. He pretended to ignore his wife, only occasionally looking up during several of David and my comments. Years of hurt have constructed, comment by comment, action by action, a seemingly impenetrable way between them. We saw it more clearly than ever last night. I wanted to grab the knife that Manuel was playing with and cut a slice out of the air between them.

It caused me to marvel how wonderful human relationships can be if we follow God’s blueprint for such things, and how hellish they can be when we do not. While Blanca continued to express her concern for her daughter Nancy, who is 4 months pregnant, Manuel continued his vow of stubborn silence. Finally he said, “It is always my fault, isn’t it? It’s always my fault with the girls; it’s always my fault with you.” Having apparently verbally exerted himself, he resumed his sulk.

Being in the middle of such a marital dispute is always a dangerous position to be. On the one hand, a pastor wants to allow an emotionally needy mother to share legitimate concerns that naturally flow from a mother’s heart. Blanca has plenty of reason to be concerned. Nancy’s intense stress can potentially affect not only her health, but the health of her unborn baby. “All the girls need is a little love. They need their father to speak kindly to them, to put his arm around them. If they don’t get that support in their own home, where are they going to get it?”

On the other hand, listening to such emotional output undiscerning, without recognizing that there are always two sides to every story, conscious of the fact that some people are just better communicators than others, can alienate and further distance a father and husband. The one counseling has taken sides, has become biased. Objectivity, a tremendous advantage that an outsider has, can quickly become compromised. Biblical truth spoken in love is no longer heard. Instruction in restoration and forgiveness is interpreted as imposition. She has convinced you. You’ve taken her side. I will not receive your advice. Many times the wife and mother is in fact the more spiritually and emotionally sensitive. Yet the leadership of the man in the family should not be undermined and devalued. This factor is perhaps even more relevant in Latin culture.

I finally told Blanca that she had legitimate concerns. She had been more than clear in communicating these concerns to her husband. There comes a point, however, when constant, repetitive communication of these concerns becomes counterproductive. “Manuel knows that he needs to seek reconciliation. If he didn’t know it before, he clearly knows it now. He needs to make decisions that are only his to make—no one can make them for him. We are more than willing to help in whatever way we can, but right now the best way to help Nancy and to help Manuel is to pray for both of them, that they would not continue to harden their hearts.”

The plan from last week was to go out for some tacos after the study. After a good hour of hearing their sad tale of interfamily conflict, I was ready for some fresh air. We had already promised Trinidad, Manuel’s brother, that we were going to bring him some tacos to eat afterwards. Somewhere in the course of our talk, I recommended that we invite Nancy for tacos also. Although the suggestion was not commented on at the time, Blanca apparently liked the idea. She went across the street to where her daughter was and invited David and I to invite her to eat tacos with us. Nancy, just beginning to give evidence of her pregnancy, would not go anywhere with her father unless she received an invitation directly from us. She did end up accepting our invitation, however during the entire evening father and daughter did not share one word. They did not greet each other or say goodbye to each other.

Nine of us in all piled in our van, and headed about 10 minutes away to a taco stand, one specializing in cabeza, or cow’s head. Tacos de cabeza” refer to practically everything in the head of a cow, sliced or spread between two tortillas, including the tongue (lengua), eye (ojo), head meat (maciza) and brains (sesos). These tacos are actually very tasty, assuming, I suppose, that one has acquired a certain taste for them, and has developed the capacity to enjoy certain rather exotic textures. Also served were the more normal tacos de suadero, basically boiled beef chopped up and served with onions and parsley, with the ever-present hot sauce.

I sat with Nancy and listened to her as she related how she had come to the point that she could no longer tolerate her father’s habitual bad humor and insensitive, hurtful speech. She had to leave, for her sake and for the sake of her baby. I told her that we were going to do all we could to help her parents have a real marriage instead of a make-believe one. I told her that God could help them if they let Him, and that she should consider what place God has or should have in her life. She related that with the coming of her baby she had began to think more deeply about life…what it was all about, what was the purpose of life? Although I do not often tell people this, I mentioned to her that I had left a beautiful place with many friends to pursue the answer to one deep, spiritual question…why? There has got to be something more than a 9 to 5.

We were seated on the sidewalk, facing the outside wall of a house. On the wall was pasted a poster advertising the annual crucifixion celebration of Christ in Iztapalapa. Known world-wide, it is attended by upwards of 2 million people. An image of Christ in a crown of thorns graced the center of the poster. “When Jesus said, ‘It is Finished’ He declared ultimate freedom for the human race. He declared that no matter what you and I have done, or will do, we have an opportunity to be totally and completely forgiven. Total and complete liberty. A transcendent purpose.”

Finally, I asked her to do one thing. “Please, Nancy, don’t let your heart get hardened towards your father to the point that you hate him. Do not allow yourself to despise him. You really do need him, and he needs you too, perhaps more than he’s ready to recognize.”

I have seen fractured relationships and proud, hardened behavior enough to know that sometimes there is seemingly no change, no repentance. Manuel has said to us more than once, and he repeated it last night, that he has always been alone, and he always will be alone. He utters those words remorsefully, yet proudly, still not ready to recognize that the walls he uses to shut others out shut himself suffocatingly in.

I mentioned to Manuel last night that he needed to humble himself in front of his daughter. Later, even Blanca said that really Manuel didn’t need to humble himself. Such an idea seemed too strong, even to her, that a man needed to admit wrong and confess sin to his daughter. I contend, however, that this is exactly what Manuel needs to do, macho man or not, sinner like you and me, or not. If he is willing to do so, the wind of the Holy Spirit may find a crack and start blowing through their house forcefully, rearranging their family furniture in radical ways. Please pray that this is what would happen.

R.F. April 7, 2006

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